Welcome to TopTenReviews’ best identity theft protection services guide for 2019. This guide has been designed to help you protect yourself against ID fraud and stay safe across all areas of your digital life, from social media and web browsing, to online banking and data transfers.
For complete identity protection that goes beyond the usual bank accounts and credit cards at a reasonable price, IdentityForce is the best option.VIEW DEAL ON IdentityForce
And, simply put, ID theft and identity fraud are issues you are right to be concerned about. In the U.S. alone, in 2017, it is estimated that over 16 million people suffered from some form of ID theft. A variety of scams and cons as well as the victims' severe digital vulnerabilities have allowed cyber criminals to assume a fake identity and then extract money from a bank account, take out huge loans in someone’s name, and make various illegal purchases, among other crimes.
We consider the overall best identity theft protection service to be IdentityForce. This ID fraud prevention system is comprehensive, going well beyond the standard bank account and credit card monitoring of lesser services, and it does so at an affordable monthly cost, too.
How much does the best identity theft protection cost?
Typically, you can expect to pay between $10 and $30 a month for an identity theft protection subscription. Basic plans range from about $10 to $20 and usually monitor your bank accounts and credit reports for fraudulent activity. The more expensive plans include dark web scans, three bureau credit reports, notifications about activity on your investment accounts and alerts about crimes carried out in your name.
For complete identity protection that goes beyond the usual bank accounts and credit cards at a reasonable price, IdentityForce is the best option.
If cost is one of your primary concerns, Identity Guard offers the best combination of thorough identity protection and low price. Other services may offer a low price, but they don’t cover as many areas as Identity Guard.
LifeLock’s identity protection extends beyond bank accounts, credit cards, phone numbers and email addresses. LifeLock also monitors public records databases and medical insurance so fraud can be detected there as well.
|Product||Price||Overall Rating||Monitoring & Notifications||Recovery Assistance||Information Protected||Additional Features||Help & Support||Fraud Monitoring||Fraud Alerts to You||Fraud Alerts to Credit Bureaus||Resolution Services||Stolen Wallet Assistance||Service Guarantee||$1 Million Recovery Insurance||Social Security||Street Address||Full Name||Email Address||Telephone||Credit Card Numbers||Bank Account Information||Public Records||Loan/Lease Information||Criminal Records||Sex Offender Registry||Driver's License||Medical Insurance||Credit Monitoring||Mail List Removal||Credit History Reports||Family Coverage||FAQs||Newsletter or Blog||24/7 Phone Support|
|IdentityForce UltraSecure+Credit||View Deal||5/5||10||10||10||10||10||✓||✓||✓||✓||✓||✓||✓||✓||✓||✓||✓||✓||✓||✓||✓||✓||✓||✓||✓||✓||✓||✓||✓||$||✓||✓||✓||✓|
|LifeLock Ultimate Plus||View Deal||5/5||10||10||10||10||9.8||✓||✓||✓||✓||✓||✓||✓||✓||✓||✓||✓||✓||✓||✓||✓||✓||✓||✓||✓||✓||✓||✓||✓||$||✓||✓||✓||✓|
|ID Watchdog Plus||View Deal||5/5||10||10||10||7||10||✓||✓||✓||✓||✓||✓||✓||✓||✓||✓||✓||✓||✓||✓||✓||✓||✓||✓||✓||✓||✓||-||$||$||✓||✓||✓||✓|
|Identity Guard Premium||View Deal||4.5/5||6.8||10||9.3||10||7.5||✓||✓||-||✓||✓||✓||✓||✓||✓||✓||✓||✓||✓||✓||✓||✓||✓||-||✓||✓||✓||✓||✓||$||✓||✓||✓||-|
|Identity Fraud Gold||View Deal||4/5||6.8||10||10||3.8||7.5||✓||✓||-||✓||✓||✓||✓||✓||✓||✓||✓||✓||✓||✓||✓||✓||✓||✓||✓||✓||$||-||$||-||✓||✓||-||✓|
|Identity Protect by Intelius ID Protect||View Deal||4/5||10||5||7||7.5||10||✓||✓||✓||✓||-||-||✓||✓||✓||✓||-||✓||✓||✓||✓||✓||-||-||-||✓||✓||✓||✓||-||✓||✓||✓||✓|
|IDFreeze by myFICO||View Deal||3.5/5||10||5||5.5||10||7.5||✓||✓||✓||-||✓||✓||$||✓||✓||✓||-||-||✓||✓||✓||-||-||-||-||✓||✓||✓||✓||$||✓||✓||✓||-|
|ID Patrol by Equifax||View Deal||3.5/5||10||5||3.8||7.5||5||✓||✓||✓||✓||✓||-||✓||✓||✓||✓||✓||-||✓||-||-||-||-||-||-||✓||✓||✓||✓||-||✓||-||✓||-|
Effective identity theft protection services alert you quickly when your identity is compromised. IdentityForce is one of the most far-reaching services we reviewed, monitoring your Social Security number, name, street address and credit card numbers for signs of fraudulent activity.
IdentityForce has an expanded scope, tracking public records databases, loans, lease records and sex offender registries. Other identity theft protection services may cover some of these areas, but few monitor all of them.
While IdentityForce can’t prevent your information from being stolen, it does notify you as soon as it finds fraudulent activity. One excellent feature is that you can set a certain dollar amount and you’ll receive notifications whenever a withdrawal or balance transfer exceeds that amount. You’ll also get alerts if an unfamiliar name, alias, or address is associated with your name.
One bonus of identity theft protection is that it’s often closely tied to credit monitoring. Because the ways ID thieves use your information can adversely affect your credit score, IdentityForce provides you with regular reports from the three bureaus. It also offers tracking tools to show you how your credit score changes over time.
If you are affected by an ID theft, IdentityForce has tools to help you recover. These include full managed restoration, which means that someone from IdentityForce will help fill out paperwork for you.
Best Complete Protection
LifeLock is one of the most thorough identity theft protection services we reviewed. The Ultimate Plus plan monitors a wide range of online databases, public records and even black market websites to see if your personal information has been compromised.
It will scan for names and addresses associated with your Social Security number to protect you from anyone using that information to open a fraudulent account.
This service monitors some places that other services don’t. It tracks popular file-sharing sites to see if your information has been uploaded to them. LifeLock will also monitor sex offender registries for your information.
The Privacy Monitor tool is a useful way to get alerts when fraudulent activity may have occurred. These alerts will ask you if a purchase, application or address change is legit, and if fraud has occurred, LifeLock will immediately jump into action to remedy the situation. An "identity restoration specialist" will personally deal with the problem and help you solve it.
In addition to identity monitoring, LifeLock offers some credit monitoring tools as well. You’ll receive annual three-bureau reports and will have monthly access to your Equifax score.
One drawback of LifeLock is the price. It’s among the most expensive of the services we reviewed, with a monthly cost of 29.99.
Putting price at the forefront of your buying decision is important, but when choosing an identity theft protection service, keep in mind that you want a service that gives wide coverage and provides timely notifications. In our research we found Identity Guard to have the best balance of cost to services.
For $16.99 a month you’ll get complete coverage that is very close to what the best services offer. We reviewed cheaper services, but they were stripped-down versions that lacked features that come standard with Identity Guard. With those services, features such as credit monitoring and credit history cost extra.
Identity Guard’s protection services compare well with others we reviewed. It monitors your Social Security number, address and credit card numbers as well as other aspects of your identity such as criminal records and driver’s license information.
Identity Guard also provides you with tools to gauge your risk of identity theft. This can be an invaluable way of helping you change behaviors that could lead to your identity being compromised. In the event that you are the victim of ID theft, the company provides quick alerts and recovery services, including fraud insurance of up to $1 million.
Best for Public Records Monitoring
Intelius specializes in background checks and public record searches. Its ID theft protection service IdentityProtect is one of the best for tracking information about you that appears in public records searches.
For example, it can track addresses and sex offender registries. Besides IdentityProtect’s public records monitoring, its other protections are basic. It monitors your credit report and sends you an alert if it finds suspicious activity. If fraud occurs, you’re put in touch with fraud-resolution experts, who are available 24/7. A subscription to IdentityProtect costs $19.95 a month, and you can sign up for a seven-day trial to see how well the service works.
Best for Credit Report Monitoring
IDFreeze by myFICO includes complete credit report monitoring and lets you see regular reports from all three bureaus: Equifax, TransUnion and Experian.
It also sends you alerts when there’s activity on your credit reports. Many ID theft protection services only monitor and provide reports from one or two of the credit bureaus. In addition, IDFreeze includes dark web monitoring to see if your personal information is changing hands. If your identity is compromised, the service works with you to resolve the situation and restore it. IDFreeze is one of the more expensive services, costing $29.95 monthly.
Best After-the-Fact Protection
Getting protection after a data breach is better than never having it at all.
ID Watchdog has many tools for monitoring and resolving fraud stemming from ID theft. Keep in mind that it can’t prevent your information from getting stolen, but it can notify you of suspicious activity. ID Watchdog includes restoration services that put you in touch with a specialist who works with you to resolve problems resulting from fraud. It also monitors some areas others don’t, including non-credit loan databases, which aren’t caught as often as other services.
Identity theft and you
Identity theft is an increasingly bigger problem and the very best way to ensure you stay safe is to use an identity fraud protection service. These ID theft stopping tools not only help you spot and detect scams, but also offer live monitoring of things like searches about your financial situation, changes of address, and accounts being opened in your name, but also offer access to top-level credit reports.
These advanced digital security tools also often come with a suite of anti-phishing and anti-keylogger programs, which help keep malware off your system and, as a result, stop hackers from extracting data from you. Many also offer media identity monitoring suites too, which scan Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube and Google+ for imposter accounts or malicious, prying links.
Importantly, if anything about you or your accounts is detected, then the best identity theft protection services then introduce a certified identity theft management specialist to handle your case until it is resolved.
Of course, not all this advanced technology comes free and not every identity theft protection service is created equal, with free services offering the most basic features and protection, and then fully paid for services offering secret service-levels of digital security and monitoring. Here, in our best identity theft protection guide, we recommend six paid-for services that we consider the absolute best currently in business.
Why trust us?
We’ve been reviewing identity theft protection for eight years. In that time we’ve watched the industry and monitored trends to ensure that our reviews reflect the most current services. As the technology identity thieves use becomes more sophisticated, the tools used by these services are advancing in stride.
Services such as Identity Guard and LifeLock use algorithms and machine learning to search through the dark corners of the internet to see if your information is being sold or used by ID thieves. In addition to monitoring your Social Security Number, address and name, these sites also look at medical records, which are increasingly a source of identity fraud.
How we tested
We spent 60 hours researching identity theft protection services before narrowing our list down to the best companies. We couldn’t test them in a real-world scenario since that would involve actually getting our reviewer’s identity stolen. Instead, we found comparable plans and contrasted the features each one offered.
One of the most important things to look for is how quickly the service will notify you about potential fraud and the methods used to notify you. The best identity protection services will call or text you. Many services also have mobile apps that notify you about potential fraud. These will let you indicate whether a transaction or loan application was made by you and, if not, begin the process of rectifying the fraud. You’ll also want a service that notifies credit bureaus about fraud, this will save you from contacting the bureaus yourself.
As an added bonus, identity theft protection services often include credit monitoring. Because your credit score can be affected by fraud, you’ll be given access to three-bureau credit reports more frequently than the once a year mandated by federal law. Many services also let you monitor one of your scores monthly.
In the event that your identity is compromised, these services offer recovery services. Look for services that include restoration services, which means you’ll be connected with a specialist who will fill out paperwork and make the necessary calls to help recover your identity.
Are identity protection services safe?
Because data breaches are becoming more common, it’s reasonable to ask if these identity protection services are themselves safe to sign up for. Look for an identity theft protection service that uses two-factor authentication (2FA). With 2FA, anyone who gets your email and password through another data breach or a phishing attack is blocked from logging in. Generally, someone gaining access to your ID protection account won’t result in your personal information being compromised, depending on how the service manages that data. But it can result in notifications being deactivated. According to Tom’s Guide, many prominent identity protection services don’t offer 2FA, but many are working to add it.
Government shutdown affects ID theft victims
As the U.S. government shutdown passes the 20-day mark, some agencies that provide important services are still unavailable. One of these is the FTC, which aids victims of identity theft. While the government is closed indefinitely, victims of identity theft are unable to report their thefts, and resources the FTC provides to law enforcement are also unavailable.
Typically, in the event of ID theft or other breach of your personal information, you would file a report with the FTC’s identity theft site to begin the process of notifying local law enforcement and to start a recovery plan. The FTC doesn’t intervene on your behalf, but it does provide useful tools and resources to assist you in recovering your identity. With the government shutdown, these are unavailable.
If you are the victim of identity theft during the government shutdown, there are steps you can take to minimize the damage. Get copies of your credit reports and examine them for unusual activity. Also, place freezes on your credit files to prevent new accounts from being opened without your approval. If you are a victim of fraud while the shutdown persists, keep a list of all your calls and correspondences so you can file a complete report when the FTC reopens.
The Identity Theft Resource Center, a nonprofit that provides research and tools to help victims of identity theft, is unaffected by the shutdown. If you are the victim of identity theft, contact it for help with your next steps.
Amazon & USPS glitches leave customer data exposed
The holiday shopping season has begun, and both Amazon and the U.S. Postal Service announced that vulnerabilities have left their customers’ information accessible. It's unclear if either of these issues led to customer records being accessed, but it may be prudent to change your passwords if you use either site.
The Amazon breach exposed customer names and emails. Amazon sent emails to customers whose data may have been affected but has otherwise been quite vague about details. It appears to have primarily affected customers in the U.K., though customers in the U.S. have also received emails. However, the full scope isn’t quite known yet.
The USPS breach involved a variety of customer information, including emails, addresses, and phone numbers. It's estimated that this error, which has been active for almost a year, left over 60 million customers’ data potentially exposed. The issue appears to have been confined to a portal used by customers to track the shipment of packages, especially those who use bulk mail, so small businesses may have been affected.
According to USPS, there’s no evidence that this vulnerability was exploited, but it would be prudent to change your password if you use the USPS Informed Visibility platform.
Hackers are most likely to use information gathered through these two vulnerabilities for phishing attacks. If you received a notification from Amazon or used the Informed Visibility platform, your email could be used to send phishing messages, though both Amazon and the USPS say there’s no evidence that any customer information was accessed.
Marriott data breach affects up to 500 million customers
Marriott hotel chains recently reported a data breach that left up to 500 million customers’ personal information vulnerable. This makes it potentially one of the largest breaches in history.
The breach is centered around Marriott’s Starwood Hotel branch. Information from the guest reservation database was compromised, with potential unauthorized access dating as far back as 2014. The information exposed may include personal information such as names, addresses, phone numbers, and passport numbers. According to Marriott, credit card information was accessible but encrypted, though the company can’t rule out the possibility of that information being decrypted.
Marriott is offering anyone who may have been affected one year of free service from WebWatcher, which monitors the internet for signs that your personal information has been used. Know that the service only detects signs that your data has been compromised – it can’t detect any fraud that occurs.
With so many high-level data breaches, it's a good practice to have freezes and fraud alerts placed on your credit reports. This greatly reduces the likelihood of someone opening new accounts in your name, though it doesn’t help if your information has already been used fraudulently. Monitor your credit card and bank statements for any purchases you didn’t make and keep an eye on your mail for anything out of the ordinary.
Google Plus vulnerability forces company to discontinue service
Google recently discovered several vulnerabilities in its little-used social media platform Google Plus, which left personal identifying information accessible. According to Google, this didn’t impact passwords or financial information, but names, emails, and occupations were left exposed.
In October, the Wall Street Journal reported that a vulnerability had exposed the information of over 500,000 Google Plus users. In response, Google said it would shut down its social media network in August 2019. On Dec. 10, Google announced it had discovered another bug that left the information of nearly 50 million users vulnerable. In response, it has moved up the timetable for shuttering Google Plus to April 2019.
These bugs involved the Google Plus API, which connects third parties to Google Plus and potentially exposed user information that was set to private. According to Google, the bug was fixed quickly, and though user data was potentially exposed, there’s no evidence it was accessed. Google plans to shut down the Google Plus API in a month.
Google plans to notify anyone potentially affected by these vulnerabilities. If you receive a notification, there’s not much for you to do besides transition away from using the service.
What to do if your identity is stolen
The sad fact is that your identity has a home in many places you can't personally safeguard. Things beyond your control, such as the 2017 Equifax hack, leave your information vulnerable. If your identity is stolen, don’t panic. There are several things you can do that will minimize damage.
It’s likely the entity that was compromised will offer you free credit monitoring. While useful, the services offered are usually bare-bones and can take as long as 60 days to notify you of any fraud. The identity theft protection services we reviewed are stronger, quicker and more comprehensive. So if you’re already signed up for an ID theft protection service, the free service offered won’t be of much use to you.
One thing you can do yourself is put a freeze on your credit file. We recommend doing this as soon as you learn of a security breach. A freeze prevents creditors from pulling your credit without your explicit permission.
Should I freeze my credit report?
If you’re worried your personal information is compromised, freezing your credit report is an easy and free security measure worth considering. Also referred to as a security freeze, you can contact Equifax, Experian and Transunion to freeze your credit report. Doing this restricts access to your credit report, which creditors use to approve loans, credit cards and lines of credit and determines interest rates and repayment terms. So, if the identity thief tries to apply for a loan from a bank, it’s rejected early in the application process because the bank cannot access your report, which protects your credit from unwanted debt placed in your name.
The FTC notes that a credit freeze doesn’t prevent identity thieves from making charges to your existing credit cards. So if your credit card or bank account is already compromised, you still need to contact your bank to freeze those accounts until new cards are issued. That said, you can still access and monitor your credit report when it’s frozen, and you can easily have the freeze lifted if you’re applying for a loan, an apartment or job, as the credit agencies are required to lift it within an hour after a request.
Freezing and unfreezing your credit report is free and there are no limits to how often you can do it. It doesn’t stop existing creditors or debt collectors from accessing your credit report, nor does it stop any government agencies who request access in response to court orders, but it’s one of the best options you have for minimizing your risk of identity theft.
Does where you live make you more vulnerable to identity theft?
Data breaches seem to be an everyday occurrence these days. The Identity Theft Resource Center estimates that since 2005 there have been more than 9,000 breaches, exposing more than 1 billion records. WalletHub recently published a report that looks at which state’s residents are most vulnerable to identity theft.
Nevada, Florida and New Jersey occupy the top three spots. However, Wyoming, Arizona, and California saw the highest average dollar amount lost due to fraud. One interesting thing the report looked at is each state’s policies that aim to protect its residents from identity fraud. Delaware ranks last in this regard. Some common protections states use to protect residents include security freezes for minors and identity theft passports that help victims of ID theft recover their identities.
Tips to help prevent identity theft
When news of a data breach breaks, you probably check to see if it's affected you, and you may sign up for identity theft protection. Too often, however, the damage has already been done. Identity theft protection services notify you if someone uses your information to commit fraud, but they don’t prevent your data from being stolen.
Luckily, there are many steps you can take to secure your personal information:
- Don’t give your information to unsolicited requests. According to RoboKiller.com, nearly 4.5 billion robocalls were made in June alone. Phone scams focus on using credible threats, like tech problems or the IRS, to get you to give up personal information. The FTC has a guide on how to deal with phone scams.
- Avoid carrying your Social Security card and try not to share your number widely. Some services may require it, especially if they need to check your credit. If it’s optional to include your SSN, don’t share it.
- Empty your mailbox every day and shred sensitive documents before throwing them away. Do the same for anything that might have sensitive or personal information about your children. This may seem paranoid, but dedicated thieves can use this information to commit fraud.
- Use strong passwords and two-factor authentication where possible. According to a Javelin Strategy & Research report, 81 percent of hacks start with a stolen or hacked password. Experian has tips on how to make a strong password. If a website has an option for two-factor authentication, we recommend activating it. It adds an extra layer of security that helps ensure your accounts aren’t accessed by unauthorized people.
How to stay safe online
It seems like it's becoming harder and harder to keep your information safe. Data breaches, hacks and malware attacks are commonplace, but the internet is an essential part of modern life. Below are some tips and best practices for staying safe online. Keep in mind, these tips are geared toward your own personal habits and won’t protect you from institutional data hacks like the Equifax or Marriott breaches.
- Strong passwords: Create complex, unique passwords for all your critical accounts. Especially with so many institutions being compromised, using the same password across the web gives hackers the opportunity to access other accounts. Use a password manager to help you create and store unique passwords for all your accounts, and set up multi-factor authentication where possible,
- Don’t forget your phone: Someone may access your personal information on your lost or stolen smartphone. You should use a secure lock screen to prevent someone from accessing your phone. Also, keep your phone’s software updated to protect it from hackers.
- Avoid oversharing: Keep the personal details you share online to a minimum. Hackers can use this information to impersonate you or guess passwords to gain access to your accounts.
- Only purchase from secure sites: When shopping online, make sure you only buy from sites you trust. Also, be sure they have secure checkout processes – look for a padlock by the address bar and an “https” in front of the website address.
- Keep your computer updated: Make sure your software and operating system are up to date. Hackers can exploit holes in out-of-date operating systems and other programs to enter your computer or accounts.
How to recover from identity theft
Even when you take all possible precautions, identity theft can happen. It’s a stressful experience but one you can recover from. Recovering from identity theft isn’t simple, and depending on what was stolen and how the theft occurred, there can be many steps.
The FTC has a checklist for recovering from ID theft. The first step should be calling the fraud departments of the companies where the fraud occurred and having them freeze your accounts. Then you should place fraud alerts on your credit report. To do this, contact one of the credit bureaus – it is required by law for it to contact the other two. Fraud alerts are free and make it harder for accounts to be opened in your name. Each bureau will send you a letter confirming a fraud alert has been placed on your file.
If you’ve had your wallet stolen or it's gone missing, cancel your cards and licenses and report passports and Social Security cards to the proper agencies. You have to make arrangements with each agency to replace those documents. Further, you need to change your logins, passwords, and PINs.
You should also file an Identity Theft Affidavit with the FTC. It will collect all the details of your theft and send complaints to the appropriate agencies or businesses. After doing this, you need to contact local law enforcement. Bring the affidavit and remember to get a copy of the police report.
One advantage of signing up for identity theft protection is the service provides you with recovery assistance. You work with a case manager who helps you with some of the paperwork as well as walks you through the steps for closing or changing accounts. Some services may allow you to give them the authority to act on your behalf when dealing with creditors.
How do I protect my identity for free?
Paying for ID theft protection may not be an option for everyone. Even if you can’t afford a plan, you can still take steps to better ensure the integrity of your personal information and protect your identity without paying much.
One of the biggest steps you can take is to stay vigilant. Keep an eye on your accounts. Check bank accounts and credit card statements for unauthorized or strange purchases. Many banks have fraud alerts that you can activate for your credit or debit cards.
A common refrain of identity theft advice is putting a freeze on your credit. This will prevent new accounts from being opened in your name. To activate a freeze, you’ll need to contact each bureau and request a freeze. Recent legislation makes this free; previously you had to pay a fee each time you activated a freeze. Keep in mind, to get new credit for yourself, you’ll need to deactivate the freeze.
A freeze can prevent new accounts, but according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, this is a rare form of ID theft, though, with data breaches like the Equifax breach, there is a risk of it becoming more common.
Another way to prevent ID theft is to opt out of junk mail and unsolicited credit card offers. Use OptOutPreescreen to keep the bureaus from selling your name to lenders, which will cut down on unsolicited offers.
How to protect your child from identity theft
Identity theft of children is becoming more prevalent. According to Experian, 1.3 million children – most of them under age 6 – have their identities stolen each year. Children are appealing targets because they have blank credit files and the fraud often goes undetected until they turn 18. And though the impact is unseen for a long time, it can lead to results like being denied for student loans.
There are several signs that your child may have been affected by ID theft. If you start getting calls or bills from collections agencies in your child’s name, that’s a sure sign that someone has been using their information. You may get turned down for government benefits because those benefits are being paid to another account in your child’s name.
To protect your child from ID theft, keep their Social Security number and other personal information locked away. Tell your children to avoid sharing personal information online. The FTC recommends checking your child’s credit report at 16; this will give you time to address any fraud before they apply for loans or credit cards after they turn 18.
If you find that someone has opened an account in your child’s name, you should contact the companies where the fraud occurred. You may also need to contact the credit bureaus and have them remove any fraudulent accounts. You’ll likely have to provide evidence of your child’s birth certificate. You can put a freeze on your child’s credit, which will prevent thieves from opening new accounts in your child’s name, though it won’t prevent existing accounts from being used.
What is tax refund ID theft?
One of the many ways ID thieves can use your information is by filing false tax returns in your name to claim refunds. In some cases, they may also use your Social Security number to get a job.
This is one of the most common types of fraud the IRS sees. The IRS estimates that in 2015 alone, $14.5 billion in fraudulent returns were attempted. An Experian study shows that tax fraud is the second most common type of ID fraud after credit card fraud, though the total amount of tax ID fraud is decreasing.
Most often, when you’re a victim of this type of fraud, you find out when you file your return. The IRS will send you a notice that it’s already received your return. If your SSN was used by someone to get a job, that employer will report that income to the IRS. When you send in your return, you’ll hear from the IRS that you didn’t report all your wages.
If you think someone fraudulently used your SSN to file a return, contact the IRS. It will assist you in fixing the problems. You also need to file a Form 14039, an Identity Theft Affidavit, which you attach to your return. In some cases, the IRS will assign you a unique PIN to use when filing your return.
Tax season scams: How to protect yourself from identity theft
While the tax filing deadline (April 15) is still a few months away, we’re in the heart of tax scam season. Since filing tax returns involves both sensitive personal information, refunds and federal laws, it’s a prime hunting ground for predators looking to get your personal information, financial information and refunds.
The most common scam is for a scammer to contact you, posing as an IRS representative, using fear tactics to persuade you to provide payments. Some of these scammers are sophisticated enough to provide you with their IRS ID number.
According to the IRS, here’s how you can easily tell if someone posing as an IRS agent is a scammer:
- The caller demands immediate payment of back taxes. The IRS doesn’t demand payment over the phone, nor will they call about taxes owed without initiating contact in the mail.
- The caller doesn’t provide an opportunity to challenge the tax debt. The IRS is required to provide you with the opportunity to appeal the amount owed. If the caller doesn’t provide this, hang up.
- The caller asks for a specific payment method. The IRS doesn’t make request for payment methods, such as a prepaid debit card.
- The caller asks for your credit card and checking account number. The IRS doesn’t ask you to make payments over the phone.
- The caller threatens to arrest you or claims to have issued a warrant for your arrest due to back taxes. The IRS does not make such threats over the phone.
- You are contacted through email, text messages or social media. The IRS does not use these methods of contact.
If you do get called by someone claiming to represent the IRS, you should hang up and contact the IRS directly to confirm whether you owe any taxes. If you don’t owe any taxes, you should report the incident to the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration. You can also file a complaint with the FTC Complaint Assistant.
How long do the effects of identity theft last?
Depending on how your identity was compromised and how quickly you resolved your issues, the effects of identity theft can linger long after. The Economist estimates that it can take up to six months and hundreds of hours to resolve identity fraud. A lot depends on how quickly you find that your information was compromised. Identity theft protection services help here, notifying you of suspicious activity and helping you to resolve any fraud that may have occurred.
Depending on what information was stolen, the FTC makes a different recommendation on how to manage the immediate aftereffects. The immediate effects can include damage to your credit score and report, which can hinder you in many ways. Besides being unable to get approved for loans, having bad credit can also affect how much you pay for auto insurance and can even result in you not being considered for jobs.
In addition to financial effects, identity theft can also impact your life in other ways. ID theft is one of the few crimes that requires victims to do significant legwork to resolve the issues. And even when victims work with law enforcement and government agencies, they report dissatisfaction with how their issues are resolved, according to an annual survey by the Identity Theft Resource Center.
One of the biggest effects that are underreported is the emotional consequences of dealing with ID theft. Identity theft can affect sleep patterns, job performance, and interpersonal relationships. It can also result in victims tapping into their own savings to deal with the problem.
Mastercard & Microsoft announce new digital ID
On Dec. 3, 2018, Microsoft and Mastercard announced a joint venture to create a single unified digital identity. All your individual identifiers, for example, your passport and Social Security number, would be included in your digital identity, so there would be less for you to remember.
According to Ajay Bhalla, Mastercard’s president of cyber and intelligence solutions, “Today’s digital identity landscape is patchy, inconsistent and what works in one country often won’t work in another. We have an opportunity to establish a system that puts people first, giving them control of their identity data and where it is used” This would include financial services, commerce, government services, and digital services.
The project is in its initial stages, so there’s little information about what this digital identity would entail and if it would be optional. Mastercard says more information about the specifics is forthcoming.
Much of the press release focuses on the simplicity of having a single-use identity, which would make it easier to log into and use multiple sites, without having to remember the increasingly complicated, unique passwords each one requires. A password manager can accomplish the same thing.
What are the most common types of ID theft?
Identity theft isn’t a single, simple thing – there are multiple ways thieves can access your information and cause trouble. Here are some of the most common types of identity theft to watch out for:
- Account takeovers: This is one of the fastest growing types of identity theft, accounting for 1.4 million instances. It involves someone gaining access to one of your accounts and changing the login and security setting. This type of theft has resulted in over $2 billion in losses.
- Credit card fraud: Another of the most common types of ID theft involves thieves using your existing credit card or creating another in your name. You can put a freeze on your credit to prevent new accounts from being opened in your name.
- Medical fraud: Medical fraud involves someone using your information to get medical treatment. This can result in doctors having inaccurate records, fraudulent medical bills or creditors tracking you down for bills you never received.
- Tax identity fraud: This is when someone submits tax returns in your name. You’ll discover the fraud when you file your return and the IRS notifies you that it has already received one from you.
- Child ID theft: Children are becoming a more common target for identity thieves because of their unblemished credit. This can impact your child in the future when they become old enough to apply for credit themselves. Keep an eye out for any bills that come in their name.
What is medical ID theft?
According to the Department of Health and Human Services, health data breaches are on the rise. In 2017, there were more than 250 health data breaches, and there were more than 300 in 2018. This means millions of records were potentially exposed along with the vital information they contain, including Social Security numbers, credit card numbers, and addresses.
Medical information is appealing to thieves because it lets them commit all types of fraud – they can fill prescriptions, file claims in your name, open credit cards or get loans in your name. It’s also possible for thieves to blackmail patients with sensitive medical histories.
Keep your eye on any medical information you get in the mail. Read the explanation of benefits on any claim you receive and check to see if the information matches the date you were seen and the treatment you received. Signs you may be a victim of medical fraud include bills for services you didn’t receive, debt collector calls for medical debt you don’t owe, credit report entries for debt you don’t owe, notices from your insurance that you’ve reached your benefit limit or denials of insurance based on conditions you don’t have.
If you are a victim of medical ID fraud, you can request a copy of your medical records, which you’re entitled to by federal law. Review them for inaccurate information. You may need to request records from before the theft. You may also need to ask insurers and medical providers for “accounting of disclosures,” which is their record of who they’ve sent copies of your records to. Ask for corrections to your medical records, but make sure you keep copies of any documents you may have received due to the fraud.
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Identity theft protection tips for the visually impaired
Everyone is at risk of having their identity stolen, but some groups are more likely to be victims. According to the Identity Theft Resource Center (ITRC), people with impaired vision or vision loss are easier targets for criminals. Fortunately, the ITRC teamed up with Braille Institute to develop tips for helping people with vision issues protect themselves from being targeted. In the article, Empish J. Thomas shares her experience with identity theft and the obstacles she encountered. Thomas recommends that the visually impaired have a core group of trustworthy people who can help with the following tips (which actually apply to everyone):
- Don’t take anything at surface value. Be suspicious of the source, whether it’s a phone call, a letter or an email. Never give out personal data to anyone requesting it unless you have thoroughly vetted the source.
- Shred all documents containing personal information. Shred all documents before you throw them away, including junk mail, medical documents, bills, and bank statements. People with impaired vision may need to rely on a friend to routinely help them go through all of the items that need to be shredded.
- Use security software and identity theft monitoring services. Antivirus software isn’t enough to protect you, as most identity theft occurs without viruses. You need to rely on more robust security measures to ensure you are protected from a broader range of threats.
- Monitor your credit. If your identity has been stolen, your credit report will likely provide the first clues. The sooner you take action against identity theft, the greater the chances are that you will fully recover.
- Get help immediately. Likewise, the sooner you report suspicious activity, the better your chances are of recovering from identity theft. The TRC and the Federal Trade Commission offer assistance to victims of identity theft.
How safe is my personal information?
According to the Insurance Information Institute, over 16.7 million people fell victim to identity theft in the U.S. in 2017. And when you look at a list of the top 21 largest data breaches, over 2.6 billion people worldwide had their personal information exposed in 2018. So, how safe is your personal information? Probably not very, but this shouldn’t keep you up at night, and here’s why.
Identity theft is something like a backward lottery: we all have a chance of having our identities stolen but the chances are slim. Nick Clements argues in “Should Identity Theft Really Scare You?” that identity theft is not as big of a deal as you might think.
For starters, it’s rare for victims of identity theft to actually take a financial hit from it. He notes how 86 percent of the identity theft cases in 2014 were account takeovers and only 4 percent were identity takeovers. Since the majority of identity theft cases are account takeovers, banks and financial institutions have safeguards in place to protect you from having your account taken over. They also have processes in place to get your account under control quickly and to get any losses back to you after the theft is reported. In fact, 96 percent of people who experience account takeover never have to pay a dime because of it.
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